What’s What & Who’s Who: Sailing

You’re Gonna Need a Partner

The Yale team sails a type of boat called a “Double-Handed Dinghy,” which is manned by a skipper and a crewman. The skipper is in charge of steering and handling the main sail, while the crewman handles the jib — a small sail at the front of the boat — and leans into the turns.

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They Don’t Just Call It a Race?

A regatta is the name for a sailing competition. The race committee of the home team lays out a course with buoys, and the teams are broken down into several skill levels that compete against opponents of similar skill. There are as many races as there are competitors in the smallest team.

No Zebras on the Water

At most Regattas, there are no referees on the water to assess penalties for infractions such as collisions among boats. Contestants are left to police themselves. If one team cries “Protest,” the offending party must do two penalty spins — 720 degrees of rotation — robbing them of their momentum. Generally, one party is in the wrong and knows it, women’s captain Jane Macky ’08 said. Teams less familiar with the rules of sailing, however, are frequently less obliging, and the matter gets taken to judges onshore after the race.

A Full Collection of Dinghys

When competing, the home team provides the boats for all the contestants. Yale maintains a fleet of 24 “420s” — nearly 14-foot long, two-person sailboats. Other teams use different models, and the athletes have precious little time to familiarize themselves with the new boats before a competition begins. Even the minor differences between the “Flying Junior” and the “Lark” can give an advantage to the home team, but Yale’s sailing captains agreed that MIT’s “Tech Dinghy” is by far the most troublesome.

Always a Lady on the Boat

Yale has a co-ed team and a women’s team, but no men’s team. Co-ed team captain Zach Brown ’08 said it all comes down to weight. The boats used in collegiate sailing are fastest when carrying between 260 and 280 pounds. With the average man weighing 140-180 pounds, an all male crew would simply be too heavy.

3 … 2 … 1

At a regatta, the boats are not expected to line up at the starting mark. Competitors are given a countdown for the race start and must vie for an advantageous position. Ideally, the boat is fully in motion as it crosses the starting line. The skipper must time his or her approach so the boat does not cross early.

A Coach with a Cough

Spectating a regatta can be challenging, especially at Yale, where races generally take the boats far from land. Fortunately, head coach Zach Leonard provides plenty of entertainment on shore. One of the best coaches in collegiate sailing, Leonard is not without his quirks. The team captains are especially fond of his distinctive nervous cough and of Larry, an African hunting dog able to jump directly over his owner.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable

The Yale team competes in the fall and the spring, exposing them to the full gamut of weather conditions Connecticut has to offer. Coming back two weeks before school starts, the squad goes out in nothing but swimsuits and life preservers. Towards the end of the fall season, however, sailors can expect temperatures of five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill. Brown, who has found himself in heavy snow on Long Island Sound more than once, said he wears a face mask — along with his dry-suit, scarf, wool socks and beanie — to ward off the cold.

Less is More

The order of finish is coupled with a points system — one point for first place, two for second etc. At the end of the regatta, the scores are tallied up, and the team with the lowest cumulative score is declared the victor.

Yale Rules the Waves

Yale has the finest program in collegiate sailing, Brown and Macky said. Although clearly biased sources, the facts speak for themselves: The women have come in 1st and 2nd and the co-ed team 3rd and 5th at various national regattas in recent years. Yale superiority extends after college as well, as alums have brought home silver and bronze medals from the Olympics.

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